MINNEAPOLIS — Doug Pederson’s face was ruddy as he leaned on the postgame lectern. Three hours, 7 minutes of NFL football on a fall Minnesota day with a raw, biting wind will do that.
Except the game was played indoors, at U.S. Bank Stadium, the place where Pederson hoisted the Lombardi Trophy just 20 months back. Pederson had reasons other than weather to be red-faced Sunday, when the Eagles returned to the site of what many fans consider the greatest moment in the history of their franchise.
This time, instead of green confetti raining down on them, the Eagles were showered with footballs launched by Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins in a 38-20 loss that left them with a 3-3 record and a lot of questions about whether they really have the talent to compete for a playoff spot. They travel to Dallas next weekend.
To complete the reversal of fortune at the place that holds so many great Eagles memories, Pederson saw a trick play blow up in his face just before halftime. Kicker Jake Elliott tried to hit Dallas Goedert for a first down on a fake field goal, instead of adding three points from about 38 yards, off an Andrew Sendejo interception. Goedert was no Nick Foles; he was well-covered and Everson Griffen intercepted the pass.
Pederson spoke of the need for accountability from everyone, and of making corrections from the tape, but this is a team that has fallen behind by double digits in five of its six games, a team that is being outscored 44-10 in the first quarters of games that do not involve the New York Jets. Hard to see more film study turning things around.
On Sunday, the start was the worst imaginable, a 24-3 deficit 21 minutes into the game, against a now 4-2 Vikings team that really hadn’t looked like an offensive juggernaut in losing divisional matchups to the Packers and Bears. The Eagles’ confused, slow-reacting secondary was easy pickings for Cousins, who threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns, compiling a 138.4 passer rating.
“We’ve still got a lot of season ahead of us, 10 games. It’s where we are right now,” Pederson said. “We’ve got to get guys healthy, as we know, and get everybody focused on winning the next game. … I think that’s something our team does best, is rally around each other and pick each other up and move forward.”
They were down 10-0 and had run three plays with 1 minute, 54 seconds left in the first quarter. The Vikings were the fourth Eagles opponent, out of six, to score on each of their first two drives. Carson Wentz’s first pass attempt, a 4-yard completion to Alshon Jeffery, was the final play of the quarter.
“We’ve got to stay out on the field and make better plays in these key situations,” said Wentz, who completed 26 of 40 passes for 306 yards, two touchdowns, and a desperation heave interception late in the game. “It’s a good defense. Tough place to play. Getting down early makes it tough.”
Rookie running back Miles Sanders, the only offensive weapon with difference-making speed, scored one Eagles touchdown with a 32-yard catch and set up the other with a 45-yard reception. The latter was the Eagles’ longest gain of the day.
Four games in a row now, the longest catch has gone to a running back. DeSean Jackson, won’t you please come home?
Wentz led the visitors back from 24-3 to within 24-20 with 6:19 remaining in the third quarter, but Cousins went to work again and put the game away. Speedy receiver Stefon Diggs caught seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns, Eagles safeties wandering in no-man’s land while the corners were toasted.
The Eagles said the Vikings didn’t do anything unexpected, but it was hard to credit that, after the Eagles talked all week about stopping the run and barely mentioned Cousins and the passing game.
Eagles linebacker Zach Brown, Cousins’ 2017 teammate in Washington, last week called the quarterback “the weakest part of their offense,” and questioned why they paid him $84 million over three years to hand the ball off in a run-based attack.
Brown grudgingly conceded that Cousins played well Sunday, but it was not a topic he cared to address at length.
“When they get in quarters and play flat-footed, you go over the top,” Cousins said after raising his career record against the Eagles to 6-3, with 21 touchdown passes and six interceptions. “When they play single-high and the safety gets flat-footed, you go over the top. You just go where your reads take you, and for whatever reason a couple of times, they got a little flat-footed and they gave ‘Diggsy’ the chance to get behind them.”
Cousins said he had no idea about Brown’s comments until a reporter told him about them after the game.
Sidney Jones’ return to the starting lineup from a hamstring injury was a disaster. The Vikings went right at Jones, as the Saints did in a similar mismatch last November. The third-year cornerback, who seemed to have so much talent when he was drafted, looked tentative and hesitant. He sat out several plays in the second half, replaced by Craig James, who didn’t fare any better.
“That’s always expected,” Jones said, when asked about being targeted from the start.
“Just getting sharp … just coming out and knowing what to do,” Jones said, when asked what he needs to do to play to his talent level. “I think everything else will take care of itself. … I feel like I’m very close. I just have to put the pieces together.”
The other starting corner, Rasul Douglas, took the blame for 62- and 51-yard Cousins touchdown bombs to Diggs, though Douglas clearly expected safety help on the second. He turned back to his teammates with his arms outstretched, something he did not care to explain afterward. Malcolm Jenkins said that play was his fault.
A big Eagles strength this season was supposed to be their offensive and defensive lines, but both were outplayed Sunday. The defensive line got very little pressure on Cousins. Pederson had to move the pocket to give Wentz time to throw. Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders carried 16 times for just 54 yards, less than 3½ yards per carry.
“Obviously we would have liked to have run the ball more efficiently,” said center Jason Kelce, after calling the game “a very upsetting performance.”
Defensive end Brandon Graham, who notched the Eagles’ only sack, said the Vikings max-protected quite a bit.
“We see it every week, but it’s all good. We got to figure a way [for the pass rush to get home],” he said.